The Maryland men’s basketball team never asked for such a weak nonconference schedule; it was compiled long before Coach Mark Turgeon learned three key cogs were on board for the season. Logan Aronhalt, Charles Mitchell and Dez Wells arrived after Turgeon loaded the slate with the likes of Maryland-Eastern Shore, Delaware State and Monmouth, so they endured blowouts against undersized opponents, working to get better but longing for something bigger.
Now comes the fun part. The Terrapins have finished their stroll down Easy Street. All that remains is the grind.
With it, Maryland ushers in Virginia Tech with anticipation and relief and ready for the ratcheted intensity sure to coincide with Saturday’s ACC opener.
“I’m excited to go into the league because I think we’re ready for it,” Turgeon said. “Mentally, we weren’t ready to play today. Saturday, we’ll be ready for it. We won the games, we did what we had to do. A lot of teams around the country play the same type of schedule and we handled it well. We didn’t have many close games. That would be one of my concerns heading into the league. But we practice that a lot. We should be ready for it.”
For more than five minutes against IUPUI, little about the Terps looked prepared. Maryland opened sluggish and trailed 14-3 with 14 minutes 38 seconds left in the first half.
But after struggling with the Jaguars’ zone defense, Seth Allen made consecutive three-pointers to open up space for a defining 11-0 run buoyed by Maryland’s reserves.
Allen finished with a team-high 13 points, but all 10 regulars scored, eight with at least seven points. Logan Aronhalt canned three zone-busting three-pointers and finished with 10 points; Wells and Alex Len had nine apiece.
Coming off the bench, replaced by Mitchell in the starting lineup, James Padgett turned in an efficient eight points and six rebounds.
Maryland’s bench outscored IUPUI’s reserves 22-0 in the first half. Turgeon made changes liberally and the Jaguars made their first nearly 10 minutes in. In the past two games, Maryland’s reserves have outscored their opponents’ 88-10.
“I’m really pleased with our depth,” Turgeon said. “A lot of guys down 14-3 would be afraid to put in a bunch of freshmen. We just put them in and they did great. I watch them practice every day and they do great. Depth is going to help us. It’s nice when you can say, we’re going to do this to start the second half, and one guy doesn’t do it, you just take him out. It’ll get their attention, and they’ll start to do everything the way we want to moving on.”
The attention now turns to the Hokies, 2-4 in their past six games after a 7-0 start. More than anything, it represents a turned page, the monotony of Maryland’s nonconference schedule ending in favor of home-and-aways with, among others, North Carolina and Duke.
“Playing against teams like IUPUI and Delaware State, you never know what you’re going to get,” Wells said. “We’re just trying to get a feel. We don’t really know what to expect. Going out there, we’re kind of hesitant to see what’s going on and get a feel for the game. But we pulled the win out, and that’s all that matters.”
That Jake Layman, Shaquille Cleare and Aronhalt finally transferred practice improvements into a game setting bodes well. For a team that has preached depth all winter, it was only fitting that no player broke out in Maryland’s final tune-up. Cleare, for instance, was dominant in a second-half stretch with hard post-ups that turned into three layups, while Howard tied a season high with eight points.
“The depth really helps us create leads, because it gives our team a different look,” Allen said. “The first five started out a little bit flat, but then the bench came in and we executed our plays and we really guarded. Then the first five came back in and they played well too, so we really feed off each other.”